The Sounds of Humans in Darrick Woods

by Trevor Morgan

For a long time I have thought that human beings make far too much noise but not with their voices: our world is filled up with too much mechanically driven noise. I like to go to Darrick Woods to try to find some peace and quiet but some mechanical noise always disturbs me eventually. Usually, it is the constant noise of the traffic on the A21 and the airplanes taking off and landing at Biggin Hill but Zumba – come off it.
The dynamic volume range of the human voice is from about the 20 decibels of a whisper, to the 65 decibel level of conversation (at one meter distance) to the 88 decibels of a full shout. If the volume of a sound reaches over 90 decibels then we are faced with ear damage when we are exposed for any length of time.
Mechanical noises tend to be much louder: a chain saw at the distance of one meter is about 110 decibels in strength. Noise strength decreases with distance but at the kerb side on a busy street you are exposed to 80 decibels and that is why you have to raise your voice to be heard.
The pain threshold is about 120 decibels and luckily we rarely hear sound this loud even at a disco. A noise this strong would permanently damage your hearing within seconds.
I regularly run through the woods alone and quite often, as well, I walk through Darrick and Newstead Woods with my wife.
I usually take the same route when I run through the woods and meadows.
I enter the reserve by Tubbenden lane and as I run alongside the playground my breathing starts to increase in frequency and capacity. I notice that I am still alive and start to hear the steady clip clop of my strides. The rhythm of the strides and the increasing sound of my breath usually sends me into a reverie.
It is not long before I turn right and run past Tubbenden primary school. Quite often I am met with the sound of the children enjoying their break. The children are full of life and excitement and are emitting cries of joy. I forget about my strides and breathing and think about my own youth and all my hopes. I also wonder about the future of the school children and what sort of world we are leaving them. Will climate change make their life difficult? What will be the effect of pollution on the environment? Will there be plenty of green space near them to enjoy when they get older? Will one of them eventually become PM or will one of them be the first to land on Mars?
So, onward now and up Tubbenden Meadow and I manage to overtake a couple of people walking their dogs. My breath is getting deeper and I can really hear my panting. I feel like giving up and walking but I manage to press on. I usually meet a few people walking their dogs on the way down and I wish I was one of them but I haven’t got a dog. Everyone says good morning to me and some people sound off some words of encouragement. Nearly all the dog walkers talk kindly and gently to their dog. I’m not certain the dog understands but surely she gets the gist – or he.
At the top of Tubbenden Meadow, on the north side, there are tennis courts. In the spring, summer and autumn you can hear the thud, ping and scuff of tennis serves and forehands. Some of the players are hitting the ball very hard and with vigour. I am glad my tennis playing days are over, even if they ever got started, as just the sound of the ground strokes frightens me. I wonder if the next Venus Williams or Roger Federer practices here.
Every now and again I hear disco music coming from one of the covered tennis courts. There is a dance and exercise class going on. Why do they have to play the music so loud? Why can’t they all use headphones or ear buds? Modern technology should be able to provide an answer. Lady Gaga does not sound any better at 110 decibels and if you are too near to the speakers then you damage your hearing. Cardiac physiology improved but audio physiology damaged. What sort of trade-off is that?
What do the birds think of all this when they can’t hear a mating or warning call? Their cries for help are completely overwhelmed by the Zumba. Noise pollution could be as damaging as light pollution. A little voice in my head alerts me to the fact that I might be becoming a curmudgeon, so I try to think more positively about noise.
I love doing a few circuits or more around Darrick playing field even if it is wet in the winter. The surface is so smooth that I never trip over to hear the sound of my body hitting the ground to the sound of groans and swear words. This is where I hear parents playing with their children and dog walkers calling their dogs back as if their canine friend would ever get lost. Sometimes I hear a dog whistle. Sometimes I stop for a chat.
The regularity of my steps and breath, whilst running the course, soon sees me drifting off into another reverie. A little voice talks to me in my head: it’s my thoughts. I don’t know about you but I only ever think in sounds. My thoughts are sounds in my head. I never think in pictures. I found out about this when I was a young man when I discussed how we thought with my friends. I was shocked to find out that many of my friends only thought in pictures and they heard nothing. When I close my eyes I see nothing; just the light passing through my eyelids. However, all of the time I can hear my own voice as thoughts. I only ever see pictures in my real dreams. Often when I am running I hear music which I can change according to my mood. When I decide to run an extra lap my inner voice says “run another lap if you like”. It’s no wonder that I never feel the desire to become a painter. When I take a photograph a little voice says move that tree a little further to the left etc.
One of my thoughts while circling the track is “how do I know that the sounds in my head are my thoughts rather exterior sounds”? There is no answer, I just know it. Mother Nature has been very clever.
My thoughts change again as I head out of the playing field and run across the green space bordering Stables End woods. I usually meet some people walking their dog or taking a short cut. Everyone is very polite as they greet me. The path near here goes past Newstead Woods but I head towards the Stables End entrance to enter the trees again. The path here borders on some gardens and often I hear some gardeners “clipping away on a hedge”, as the song goes.
The path is steeper here and I have to work a bit harder; the clip clop of my feet slows down but the panting steps up.
And, now it is past the Darrick Wood school playing fields bordering the Badger Sett Woods. Once again I hear the optimistic sounds coming from the sports grounds. Perhaps, one of the stars here will invent silent forms of transport. The world needs to consume less energy; so why waste fuel converting heat into sound? A silent motor car engine will be much more efficient and it’s on its way. The silent jet engine will be the next great invention and this will lead to much reduced background noise.
It is time to ponder, on what feels like a long run through the woods, why I can only hear the nearby trains on their way through Orpington station in the dead of night when I go to look at the stars? The clickety-click sound of the trains is of course drowned out by the background noise coming from the A21 and the skies overhead during the daytime.
I am on my way down the hill now through Broadwater Woods and Broadwater Meadow and down again into Tubbenden Meadow. A fresh thought occurs that it not just the engines making all the noise on the A21 but the tyres on the road as well. This will be a tricky problem to solve but I live in hope that the future generation will solve this one too.
Darrick and Newstead Woods will then return to tranquillity and serenity. All you will hear is: the sound of your own breath; the hello of the fellow members of your species; the optimism of the school students; your dog; the birds; the insects and the rustling of the wind in the trees. The sound of the future will be quieter. But, what about the Zumba?